The development of the Prairie Ethnobotany Database is an essential part of our work and allows us to build on the leads provided by Native Americans in their use of native plants of the region. This database has 922 unique species in it and allows us to determine the most important groups of plants that were used. It should not be surprising that the greatest numbers of plants used were for medicine and for food (Table 1).
Table 1. Ethnobotanical uses, by group, of all plants in our databases; numbers and percentages.
This data was assembled from ethnobotanical and historical accounts of 251 tribes, with more data on plants whose ranges extend into Kansas and our region coming from the Navajo and Iroquois than Great Plains tribes (Table 2). This occurred because of the historical conflicts between tribes and the U.S. government.
Table 2. Ten tribes having the largest number of plants for which ethnobotanical use has been recorded.
Navajo (Ramah), 712
There were many species with large numbers of uses (Table 3). Those species that had larger numbers of uses not only were more popular but also more likely to be efficacious. It is not surprising that white sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium) had the largest numbers of uses, as both of these species are well known as medicinal plants. Specific health problems most frequently encountered in the data included gastrointestinal problems and pain relief (Table 4).
Table 3. Ten plant species with the largest number of medicinal uses.
Artemisia ludoviciana (White sage), 63
Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), 60
Acorus calamus (Calamus), 56
Rumex crispus (Curly dock), 55
Artemisia tridentata (Sagebrush), 54
Mentha arvensis (Wild mint), 49
Sambucus nigra (Black elderberry), 49
Cornus sericea (Red osier dogwood), 48
Plantago major (Common plantain), 46
Maianthemum racemosum (False lily of the valley), 45
Table 4. Specific number of species that were used for the following health problems.
Gastrointestinal pain, 268
Relieve pain/anodyne/analgesic, 246
Gynecological aid, 199
Ceremonial medicine, 170
Pediatric aid, 164
Sores/external inflammations, 150
Eye problems, 132
Venereal diseases, 122
Orthopedic aid, 103
Blood medicine, 94
Antirheumatic (external), 89
Kidney problems, 89
Misc. disease remedy, 88
Urinary aid, 85
Pulmonary aid, 82
Among those plants that have been processed and have begun to undergo chemistry analysis, the most commonly cited as having traditional medicinal properties are listed in Table 5. The count reflects the number of medicinal uses, as well as the number of different Native American tribes that used that plant. Thus what is provided is a measure of medicinal potential. Table 6 shows the kinds of medicinal uses most often indicated, with pain relief as the most often recorded medicinal property of the plants processed thus far.
Table 5. Plants that have undergone chemistry analysis that have the most medicinal use references. The count indicates medicinal use, as well as use by many different tribes.
Plant, count, percent
Acorus calamus (Calamus), 456
Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle), 254
Artemisia ludoviciana (White sage), 169
Artemisia dracunculus (Wild tarragon), 77
Gutierrezia sarothrae (Broom snakeweed), 69
Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar), 66
Glycurrhiza lepidota (American licorice), 64
Conyza Canadensis (Canadian horseweed), 60
Table 6. Most commonly cited treatments indicated for the plants that have thus far undergone chemistry analysis.
Relieve pain/anodyne/analgesic, 129
Gastrointestinal aid, 106
Antrheumatic (external), 63
Pediatric aid, 51
Gynecological aid, 48
Eye problems, 34
Throat aid, 33
Orthopedic aid, 32
Diaphoretic/promote sweating/sudorific, 30
Stomachache/problems, biliousness, 29
Hair problems, 28
Sores/external inflammations, 28
Dermatological aid, 26
Respiratory aid, 26